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Italian Without Words [Video]

Language learning can be so difficult. But one great thing about Italian is that it doesn’t necessarily take words to communicate…

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And I believe it’s true. But here in Italy a gesture is also worth a thousand words! Because Italy has a second (unofficial) language – hand gestures, and there are dozens of them!

So if you come to Italy you don’t necessarily have to learn Italian, although it would be best! These hand gestures, as in the following video, are fairly easy to learn with a bit of practice. But keep in mind to use just the right body movements and facial expression along with each one as they are important too! 

But perhaps you’re thinking, “Why should I bother learning another language — even an unspoken one?

Communication is important

But there are also many good reasons for learning another language. And here a just few of them:

  • Other languages are useful.
  • Learning one foreign language makes learning still others even easier!
  • This simple gesture that shows that you’re interested in the other person’s ways and culture.
  • And speaking even a few basic words in their language really causes them to open up. It makes them feel that they matter!

Can’t wait to get started? Great! But Super Mario (that’s what my husband’s preschool kids call him), would warn you that learning a foreign language takes work. Too bad he can’t convince his older students of this. Kids just soak English up like sponges. And most adults and teens seem to think they should be able to as well. Ten lessons, with no study on their part, and they’ll be ready to tour the world. Speaking English like a native, right? Ah, not quite!

Language learning is not simple!

If anyone tries to tell you that learning a language is simple, beware! Because it’s a discipline that takes hard work. But well worth it!

But lest I discourage you, it’s helpful to know that Italian (along with other Latin languages) is among the easier languages to learn. And you probably know many Italian words already! Foods like spaghetti, pizza, espresso, and cappuccino most quickly spring to mind. And others that we sometimes forget are Italian like: zucchini, broccoli, or caffé. Then music lovers the world round know of opera, piano, a cappella, and maestro – all Italian! Or the typical bravo, bravo! for a job well done. So you see, you already speak some Italian! Bravo!!

And here a couple more encouraging facts.

Italian is read just as it’s written. Letters nearly always make the same sound. Even vowels, which in English are so tricky and changeable, stay the same! Basically all you have to remember is: ah, eh, eee, oh, and you (a, e, i, o and u)! So once you’ve learned the 21-letter alphabet and some basic rules, you should be able to manage pronouning a few simple words.

But use words carefully!

Even familiar ones. Because they may not mean what you think!! Like these common words:

“Vorrei una pizza ai peperoni.”

Upon reading this, you might think someone is ordering a pepperoni pizza. But it really means… “I’d like a pizza with green peppers on it. (If you’d like the meat Americans call pepperoni, ask for salsiccia piccante, or better yet, salame piccante!)

“Che bel bimbo!”

Now you might think that someone is trying to call you a foolish, stupid, or inept person. But don’t get offended – they’re not talking about you! They are simply referring to a child, by saying “What a beautiful little boy!”

Words can sound so similar but have very different meanings! You might be tempted to do like a relative of ours and simply italianize an English word. But don’t! He called a car a carro. But people just thought he’d lost his mind. After all, it would be highly strange for someone to drive around either an army tank or a horse and wagon! (The word carro can mean either of those things.)

Such words are False Friends.

At least, that’s what linguists call them.

They seem so friendly and useful. But they create a lot of confusion, just like false friends in people.

But don’t worry. It’s really not that hard to make yourself understood. And if words fail you… at least learn a little “Italian without words!”

Italian without words: the hand gesture language all Italians are so fluent in, and graceful at!

Enjoy this great video and then see how many you remember!

Image credits: Hands heart | Thumbs up | Pizza.

16 replies on “Italian Without Words [Video]”

I know how important it is to be able to speak in the heart language of someone, especially in times of challenge and sadness, or in communicating the gospel. But I’ve got to tell you–that couple was a hoot and a holler. The gentleman especially had the best facial expressions with his hand motions. I think I could read him any day! You’ve really pointed out something significant–the need for communication where both sides understand what the other is saying. Communication is always two-way. Working at being understood is so important. Thanks for this, Sheila.

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Communication is important and our heart language most of all. But one important thing I’ve learned from years here is that communication and love are really shown through the heart. Even before I could understand Italian, I knew who really liked me and who just put up with me. But yes, we do need to work at being understood. What we are trying to say is not always what is perceived! And I loved that couple too!!

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Ha, Nancy! They most certainly do. I have actually wondered: if someone were to tie their hands would they still be able to talk? But it’s probably also one thing that makes them known for their crazy driving. Especially since the advent of smartphones. One hand gesticulating wildly as they drive along, with a cellphone in the other… not a good combination!! (Even though it’s illegal to use phones while driving, so many

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I’m glad! It’s interesting because when Mario came home for lunch (after I had posted this) he got a work phone call and couldn’t talk to me. So he started going through a bunch of hand motions to tell me, “Just put the rice (cooked) right into the chicken soup.” The motion was one of just mix it all together! Italian without words can be quite handy!! 🙂

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